LANGUAGE ISSUES IN INDIA Historical Background of the Problem Created by Language in Indian Politics


The problem of lingua franca in India is important because language is basic. According to the people's linguistic survey of India, there are 780 languages and 86 scriptures out of which 250 languages are extinguished and some other languages are endangered. It reflects the culture. The Language issues in India are the result of multi-lingual polity. The language problem is a very hot political question in India. India is divided into distinct linguistic regions. Naturally the person of every large linguistic region wants their language to be the national language or the lingua franca of India.

During the British rule, English was used as the official language of India. English also was issued as die medium of instruction particularly for higher education. English also became the language of inter-state communication in India. The official language of the Central government was the single most divisive official issue in the Indian Constituent Assembly.

There were two problems regarding Hindi being the official language:
a) the dialect of Hindi; and
b)the other languages existing in India.

There were objections against the continued use of English. Even after the continuous use as official language for nearly two hundred years, English did not take firm roots in India. It remained restricted to small circle of elites. 

Not more than 1% of Indians knew English at the time of independence, Besides, English being a foreign language, continued use of English affronted the sense of national dignity of independent India. Thus, objections to the continued use of English in independent India were almost universal. But there was no unanimity or consensus as to what Indian language should replace English as official language, medium of instruction and as medium of inter-state communication in India.

During the freedom movement, there was a consensus among, national leaders that English should be replaced by an Indian Language as the national language of the country. But there could not any unanimity as to what language should be national language.

The Constituent Assembly, after a protracted debate resolved that Hindi in Devanagri script should be the official language of India. It should be noted that the Constituent Assembly was exactly equally divided into supporters and opponents of Hindi. Indeed it was only with the casting vote of the President of the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, that Hindi was adopted as the official language of the country.

But it is one thing to declare Hindi as the official language of the Union. It is a totally different proposition to make Hindi acceptable to the Indian people at large. Undoubtedly Hindi is spoken by the single largest group of Indians. But Hindi is certainly not the language of the majority Indians nor can it claim to be the richest among the Indian languages. There was wide spread resistance to the adoption of Hindi as the official language. The resistance was particularly sharp in the southern region. The South looked upon imposition of Hindi, as the imperialism of the North. The constitutional provision that English shall continue side by side with Hindi, somewhat pacified the south.

Hindi is the spoken language for North Indian people. But, most people residing in South Indian states do not speak or understand Hindi. This gives rise to communication problem. A South-Indian and a North-Indian person finds it very hard to talk and communicate with each other because they don't understand each other's language of communication. Educated people who can speak and understand English breaks the barrier of language problem and able to talk freely with each other. English language has been helpful in bridging the gap between the Hindi and non-Hindi speaking people.

The constitution originally recognized 13 other languages besides Hindi as the national languages of India. Since the adoption of the constitution several other languages have come to be used as official languages in the states. Thus Nepali and Santhali are used in West Bengal besides Bengali. In Bihar Urdu is also used besides Hindi.

But as medium of instruction and as medium of inter-state communication between non-Hindi speaking states or between non- Hindi-speaking states and the centre, English still continues to be the predominant language. Even in courts particularly the higher courts such as the High Courts and the Supreme Court, English and not Hindi is used.

Considering these circumstances, one may conclude that there is no possibility of English being abolished as official language, as medium of instruction for higher education as medium of inter-state communication and as language of the courts, is deem indeed.

Article 348 of the constitution has categorically specified that English shall be used in:
(a) All proceedings in the Supreme Court;
(b) All proceeding in the state High Courts;
(c) Authoritative texts of all bills to be introduced whether in Parliament or state legislature; 
(d) All amendments which might be moved to the bills introduced in the Parliament or state legislature: (e) All acts passed by Parliament or state legislatures;
(f) All ordinances to be promulgated by the President or state Governor; and
(g) All orders, rules, regulations and bye-laws to be issued under any law made by Parliament or state legislature.

Article 349 of the constitution has provided that no bill effecting Art 348 of the constitution shall be introduced in the Parliament for the first 15 years from the commencement of the constitution, without prior permission of the President. It has also further provided that while giving his consent the President shall take into consideration the recommendations of the Language Commission and the committee of members of Parliament set up for the purpose.

Then it is provided by Art 350 of the constitution that the citizens of India shall have a right to make a petition to any authority in the state or to the central government in any language specified in the constitution. It has also provided for the appointment of a special officer by the President for investigating and finding out the extent to which interests of linguistic minorities have been protected. It is also the responsibility of the Union Government to promote Hindi throughout the country, so that it could become lingua franca for the whole of India.

India got her independence in 1947 and about 50 years have passed but language problem still persists. It is still a heavy weight on Indian political system and the issue is so sensitive that it can be exploited at any time by selfish politicians to serve their ends and purposes, In fact, many politicians do not hesitate to make language as an issue as and when need arises. Southern states have not gone much ahead in popularising Hindi in schools and other educational institutions.

Most of the work in central government is being done in English and all high ups in the society send their children and wards in schools with English as medium of instructions. There is glamour for English speaking everywhere in metropolitan cities, and chances of employment for those who have command over English are many more than those who have expertise in Hindi. Not only regional languages but regional loyalties are on the increase. Elite of the society, both in business, politics and bureaucracy all are wedded to English and for them sending their children to Hindi medium schools and other educational institutions is out of question.

English medium educational institutions have far more facilities to provide than those available to Hindi or regional medium educational institutions. Even today job opportunities for English knowing people are much more than what these are for the others. The problem is persisting because non-Hindi speaking states still resist the idea of adopting Hindi as national language. But for the continuance of this problem, to some extent, the policy of the government is also responsible.

The Government of India has so far failed to convince non-Hindi speaking states that in the long run use of Hindi is in the interest of the people of the states. In addition, these states have not been clarified as to what standard of Hindi will serve the purpose.

Then another difficulty is that politics has been interwoven with language. Language controversy is either raised by the politicians themselves or as soon as controversy some-how, some-where arises, politicians immediately jump in and bring forth politics to the front and take extreme postures. In spite of the fact that the country had monolithic political system for a very long time, whereas other problems were given priority, language was not accorded that high priority, which it deserved. All this resulted in continued agitations and demand of inclusion of more languages in the Schedule.

In 1986, there were language riots in Karnataka. Similarly in 1987 there were agitations in Goa, where ultimately Konkani was declared as official language along with Gujarati and Marathi. There was a persistent demand that Nepali, Bhojpuri, etc., should be included in the Schedule of languages of the Constitution and recognised as languages to be developed by the central government. Sindhi and Nepali have since been added to Eighth schedule of the constitution.

In case it is desired that this problem should cease to exist for that more than anything else an atmosphere will have to be created under which non-Hindi speaking states will be made to realise that learning and specialisation as well as expertise in Hindi will be in the interest of the people of the state. It is also desirable that a code of conduct be developed and strictly imposed on politicians by which exploitation of language at the time of elections or with election in view should be strictly forbidden. 

Provision should be made for declaring election of a candidate won by exploiting language, as invalid and declaring his seat immediately vacant. When such a situation arises it is only then that the problem will find its solution, otherwise it will continue to persist in spite of passing all types of laws and giving all types of assurances which the Government may give from time to time.Hindi should be so much developed that there is general realisation that it can replace English in any sphere.
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